Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Bad Mom/Good Mom vs Sad Mama/Happy Mama

So we saw it coming from a mile away, but yesterday the news was in: Britney Spears has lost custody of her children. As a mother, I'm not going to gloat, nor do I have a lot sympathy for anyone involved, except for her two little ones. Two years ago, who would have guessed Kevin Federline was going to come out of this being portrayed as smelling like a rose? Wasn't he a national joke for nearly as long? How did things come to this point, and more to the point, why do we care?

I believe, in my heart of hearts, that it's got a lot to do with our sense of judgement. Or rather, our being judgmental. This is where our language around parenting could use some changes.

I think that Britney isn't necessarily a bad mother, but I think she's really sad and very lost. Being depressed about one's life can manifest itself in damaging ways, especially in making poor decisions and practicing poor parenting skills. Self-medication is another behavior symptomatic of this greater problem. I know there are a lot of us out there that truly hope she takes some time to get into serious therapy, get some education on how to parent and takes steps to make a new, healthy life for herself.

So consider the language of being a "sad" mom. Do you feel any empathy? Have you ever been depressed to the point of making big mistakes? I know I have. I don't have the right to consider Spears as a 'bad' mother, because it would render me a hypocrite. I don't think her poor decisions and lack of parenting skills is due to any inherent "badness" on her part. But I do think it's easy for a lot of us to consider her to be "bad". It's easy to look down on someone else, it's almost reassuring, really. Judging someone else's shortcomings, when they are so transparent, lets us off the hook, at least for a while. We can feel better about our flawed selves. But it also robs us of an opportunity to do one of the truly great things humans can do, which is to relate.

Let's relate to Spears for a moment. It's as hard as hell to be a new parent, by far the hardest thing I've ever done. It's hard to go through a divorce. It's hard to be the object of ridicule, and to know that every time you make a mistake, it goes public. Take all that into account; now pretend that the person I'm writing about is a best friend, in a bad spot in life. Is she a bad mother or is she sad, needing a lot of help?

One thing that is most critical when one wants to change their life for the better is having the self-esteem and belief that they deserve more than what their life is right now. There are a lot of hurting mothers that don't have those tools to even get started. Should we kick them for their failure?

We mothers are not ever going to be perfect. The degree to which we screw up will be reflected later on in how long our kids are in therapy or if they are just able to brush themselves off and go about their business. Much of it depends on our ability to help them recover from our mistakes. We all lose it with our kids at some time or another. My son is only five months old and there are times that his father needs to take him now!. I hear other mothers who confess to yelling at their babies or swearing at them. The all-night crying of babies who won't go to sleep can make a new parent feel desperate and angry. We are only human.

Which isn't to excuse any sort of excessive behavior. I know firsthand the effect of growing up with a mother who was 'down' a lot. She wasn't depressed, per se, but she was down on her kids and herself quite a lot of the time. She didn't believe she deserved better, in fact, it seemed to me that after four marriages, she was still down on the men she chose to have in her life. Down down down.

It's hard to see a parent feel so limited, to witness a mother who deliberately chose some of the worst options possible and continues to blame others for her choices. This example taught my sister and I to become victims, people with no control over our lives. It took a long time and a lot of work to unlearn that way of living, but once you have, you can't go back to giving other people absolute control over your life. There's a certain power that comes with being powerless: you can always blame someone else for the disappointments in your life. It's pathetic, really, but when you don't care enough about your own happiness to make changes, that's what you do.

So, I have some empathy for Spears. I hope, for the sake of herself and her children, that she is willing to make some investments in herself and grow into the person she truly wants to become. Her boys don't need a celebrity mom, they need a happy mother. One who can find balance, choose wisely and keep herself grounded in this reality. I try to remember this everyday as well: my little guy needs a joyful mama, one can reflect that joy back to him. His self-esteem will depend on it. Because, deep down, I don't want a 'good' kid, I want a happy kid.

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